“I once did two paintings in the studio. They were placed together with only a tiny gap left in between. One day, a ray of light shone through. I got to see the painting at the back through the one in the front. The two paintings just overlapped with each other.”
Mobai has a beautiful name that was given by her father. “You can think of mo (ink) as a verb and bai (white) as a noun, and it will come to the meaning of inking on the white.”
Mobai’s father was a Chinese painter. He instructed her to learn calligraphy from a young age. When she became an adult, she chose to learn traditional Chinese gongbi (fine brushwork) painting. After years of intensive training, paper can no longer set boundaries for her. Everything turned to white, and now her ink goes everywhere.
“From the way of holding the brush to the use of colors, techniques, and materials, fine brushwork painting has a huge impact on me. Although I no longer do fine brushwork, I am still using the techniques that I picked up from old classes and practice.”
As natural as it could be, she has replaced the Chinese brush with a normal brush. However, she still paints on silk and xuanzhi (rice paper). They have such a fine texture, as delicate as the veins on the skin.
“I have the habit of collecting inspiration, whether it’s a piece of ceramic, an old wall, a branch, or the setting sun. No matter how it appears in front of me, as long as I can feel it, I will try to save it. Sometimes the specific idea of a painting doesn’t come from piecing things together; it could be coming from what you’ve collected in your mind when you are not creating. When the time comes, these collections will be reorganized and present themselves naturally when you create.”
Placing the first stroke of a painting marks the beginning of a bright journey. Just like how a curtain is lifted by the wind and you can see light shining over where there was once shadow. “Actually, my creation is more like an action of creating another creation.”
The scenery in her paintings is the true depiction of what she sees. It gives you the impression that you are looking through a door or window, from her perspective, trying to explore the world outside; and sometimes, the paintings depict an indoor space where you could even see the texture of the wall.
“I just had my kid when I created Wilderness of Life. I couldn’t go out often at that time, so I wanted to invite nature into where I was. Because I couldn’t reach it, I invited it in instead.”
↓ 生之曠野 Wilderness of Life
“I began to think differently when I created Vita With a View because I felt less restrained than before. My relationship with nature changed. I can enjoy the sight of it or be part of it.”
Mobai’s work in recent years always comes with a frame-like feature. Sometimes it is part of the painting, sometimes not. While her old paintings are seemingly framed, these recent pieces feature the frame as an integral part of the painting. She has experimented with custom frames, but found that there was a disconnect between the frame and painting. She has also experimented with the frames of classical paintings and tried to paint on them. From then on, the material of the frames she utilizes is constantly changing. There are frames that are made entirely of paper which are very light and connected well with the paintings. There are also frames that are made of wood, glass, and plaster which is much more fragile than glass.
The whole process is like an expedition.
“I don’t create with a goal in mind and then follow a step-by-step plan to achieve it. In fact, even if there is something I want to re-create or that there is an idea I want to materialize, the final product always turns out to be completely different. I used to question my abilities when I was a student. But now, I manage to enjoy that randomness. Most of the time, it is because there is an error you need to fix, and that action of fixing in turns leads to something better. It’s you who makes the decision.
I follow my heart completely, and the ideas never cease to stop emerging. I can feel that energy keep pushing me when I create.”
Mobai lives between Beijing and Izu. Though Beijing offers her abundant resources to create with, it is Izu, where there is the restriction in time and materials, that can always inspire her. “A location can bring in many new ideas. But as you create, it is necessary to accumulate.” To repeat an action until it becomes familiar and eventually turns into a habit, it is then you can be ready to seize that moment of inspiration. Time is working in its own way, so do we.
“Nobody can be that determined to reach for the ultimate goal at the very beginning. It’s about learning to suffer during the process.”
“My father once said something that has a great impact on me. He was a householder who eventually converted to Buddhism. He said that painting is his religion and he has always been practicing. Just like my father, painting means that same way to me. ”
“I once drew a planet and I called her The Stone From Afar. It is a sphere that is close to a perfect circle. I drew it with my bare hand, and I could hardly get a perfect circle; but with 40 and 50 of them overlapping with each other, the intersection turns out to look like a sphere that actually exists; though it’s not the case. The outline of it is not perfect but I think this is very interesting.”